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Friendship, International Style

Members of the International Friendship Partners Program enjoy a group reception. (Photos courtesy of Kelsey Fenton)

ALBANY, N.Y. (March 1, 2017) — Becoming an integrated part of a multicultural community is a satisfying feeling for an international student, and it’s even better when you’re earning college credits and having a great time

That is becoming more and more of a common story at UAlbany through the International Friendship Partners Program (IFPP).

Graduate assistant Yi Zhou is the IFPP’s founder and organizer. “As an international student who struggled to adjust to this new environment, I wanted to provide others with something I didn’t have when I first got here.”

When Zhou arrived at UAlbany in 2011 and began working at ISSS, the office had an International Buddy Program that was focused on pairing international and domestic students up with one another and sending out emails to the pairs.

“It was similar to IFPP, but it wasn’t very comprehensive,” Zhou said. “We found out that students weren’t following up with each other as well as we wanted them to. I felt the need for a more comprehensive program to give students that extra push and to unite domestic and international students together in a more welcoming environment.”

As a result, Zhou worked with the Office of International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) to develop IFPP, a series of programs designed to help both American and international students make friends with one other. Zhou praises the continued support IFPP has received from ISSS, including the help and guidance of Kayla O' Donnell, an ISSS international student coordinator and Zhou's supervisor.

IFPP leaders at UAlbany

IFPP event coordinator Zelin Zhang and IFPP founder and organizer Yi Zhou share a light moment.

IFPP maintains an eboard organized by Zhou. It consists this spring of IFPP assistant Siliang Wang, language chatting room coordinators Sung Hwan Joo and Srinanti Bhattacharya, event coordinators Kelsey Fenton and Zelin Zhang, and Facebook manager Megan Dai, who administers both the IFPP and credit-bearing RSSW IFPP Facebook groups.

Dai decided to join IFPP a year ago and became Facebook manager this spring. “As someone who struggled with my own cultural identity growing up as an Asian American, I understood that coming to another country and being immersed in an unfamiliar culture where you may have trouble communicating your needs is scary and frustrating,” Dai said.

“The program reaches out to those individuals and shows them that they are not alone, and that there are people who want to help them and get to know them.”

Zhou said, “Megan interviews someone new each week, and we feature them on our Facebook page so we can hear about the different experiences in the program.”

IFPP retains a Buddy Program in order to help new international students adjust to life at UAlbany by partnering them up with returning students. Zhou also works as the instructor for the Community & Public Service Program, where students can take RSSW 291 for 2 credits or RSSW 290 for 3.

The courses consist of meeting with friends and doing cultural activities. Students gain community service hours and credits by meeting up with their partners, attending group meetings, participating in events, volunteering for a non-profit or public organization, or taking part in language chatting rooms.

“The Community & Public Service Program provides a structure where students are required hours to complete the course,” Zhou said. “They enjoy this because they can make friends and learn about different cultures. International students also get to practice their English.”

The Language & Cultural Exchange Program provides opportunities for both U.S. and international students to interact regularly in small groups outside of the classroom. Partnered with the Community and Public Service Program, students gain credits while enjoying program events, such as a reception event, a movie night, a picnic, hiking, a running man game night, and a RSSW 290-291 refresher meeting.

For more information about this program, visit the office of International Student & Scholar Services located in the Science Library, room G-40. You can also catch them at UAlbany’s annual block party.

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